PREVIEW – Scotland v Slovakia #SCOSVK
Scotland vs Slovakia – Nations League B, Group 2 Hampden Park – Kick off 19:45 Live on Sky Sports Main Event
After the euphoria of Thursday night, Scotland return to Nations League duty on Sunday night, welcoming Slovakia to Hampden Park. This match will represent the half-way point of the 2020 Nations League campaign.
Slovakia arrive on a similar emotional high, having eliminated the Republic of Ireland from the Euro 2020 Playoffs on Thursday. Like Scotland, a penalty shootout was required to separate the sides after a 0-0 draw after 120 minutes. Slovakia’s progression was secured when Spurs’ Matt Doherty crashed his penalty off the crossbar.
Where were we?
Scotland come into this match sitting atop the group. A drab draw in the opening game against Israel at Hampden was followed by a surreal match in the Czech Republic. Originally the Czech FA tried to call the game off after a Covid outbreak in the squad, before calling up a scratch side to take on Scotland. A scrappy 2-1 win combined with Israel’s late equaliser against Slovakia put Scotland top of the table.
Record v Slovakia
Played 2, Won 1, Drawn 0, Lost 1
Scotland played Slovakia for the first time under Gordon Strachan in qualifying for World Cup 2018. A 3-0 loss in Trnava was followed by a dramatic 1-0 win at Hampden during Scotland’s unbeaten 2017.
After a game in which Scotland dominated against ten men without making the breakthrough, Ikechi Anya’s late cross was turned into his own net by captain Martin Škrtel to hand Scotland a precious victory.
Scotland were frustrated throughout that game by an outstanding performance from goalkeeper Martin Dúbravka. Martin is not with the Slovakia squad for the one.
The Scotland Squad
You can read our analysis of the squad originally called up by Steve Clarke here.
Since then, the picture has evolved with Stuart Armstrong testing positive for Covid, forcing his withdrawal alongside his close contacts Kieran Tierney and Ryan Christie. Scott McKenna, Liam Palmer and Oli Burke also withdrew injured.
To boost the ranks, Steve Clarke called up Hibernian’s Paul McGinn, Aberdeen’s Andy Considine and under 21’s captain Ross McCrorie.
Slovakia – FIFA Rank 36th – Form 1W, 4D, 2L
Slovakia arrive at Hampden Park on the without a win in four. They opened their Nations League campaign with a 3-1 home loss to the Czech Republic before slipping to a late 1-1 draw in Israel.
The Slovaks have Covid issues of their own. 8-cap midfielder Jaroslav Mihalik is not travelling after testing positive, while highly rated centre back Milan Škriniar of Inter Milan is also self-isolating.
The squad are led by their captain Marek Hamšík who has scored 25 goals in 121 caps and is their top goalscorer and most capped player in their history.
Their squad has quality, with most of their players earning their living across the top leagues of Europe.
Having seen Steve Clarke press ahead with the three at the back system in the last two game, it would be a surprise to see him deviate from that now.
Kenny McLean’s penalty heroics could see him rewarded with a start against Slovakia. McBurnie and Dykes showed flashes of a promising partnership up front and will hopefully be given another 90 minutes to work on that.
Ryan Fraser impressed with his driving runs coming off the bench on Thursday night. His match fitness may limit him to another cameo from the bench here.
It’s hard to predict how the physical and emotional toil of Thursday night’s games will have drained both squads.
Both teams should of course come into this match on a high, having sealed progressing to their respective Playoff Finals.
Scotland will know that a Playoff for World Cup 2022 is only available the group winners of Nations League groups. A victory over Slovakia would see Scotland take a big step towards that ambition.
Predicted Score: Scotland 1-1 Slovakia
Elsewhere in Nations League B, Group 2
Israel host the Czech Republic in Haifa (also a 19:45 kick off).